Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A New Path For Me

I've been letting folks know that I'll be retiring from my current position at the end of July. Thirty days hath September and thirty years have I at the U of I. The immediate reasons for retiring are the budget problems, the incentives in the separation program, and the unfortunate reality where it seems I can be most useful now to the University by not drawing a paycheck.

I'll get to the longer term reasons in a bit. First I want to note that I view this more as a change in job status than as a move to the life of leisure. I hope to teach, consult, and write - to do fruitful things and I hope continue to have a positive influence, on learning technology and elsewhere. I also hope to do a mixture of volunteer work and for pay activity. We'll see how that sorts itself out. I'm open to possibilities as they might play out, though I'll be staying in Champaign for the foreseeable future, so alternatives that require moving are not in the cards.

I wrote about the longer term reasons in this post, which has a brief review of Crazy Heart and ties themes from that movie to the more general notion that Baby Boomers are contemplating their own mortality. By coinky dink, last night I turned on the TV around 8PM and The Visitor was just starting. It's a surprisingly good film that is partially about the same theme, using that to get to the a completely different idea, that with warmth and understanding we can make deep connections across race and religion, even if the way the the world works is completely screwed up in this regard. The U.S. immigration system is depicted in this movie in a bureaucratic, uncompromising way. It is entirely blind to whether the individual is a decent person or not.

The film seemed like a personal message to me, not the least because the main character was an academic economist, who found lack of meaning in his university work. He wasn't looking for this particular issue, just wanting to find a spark of life in an otherwise going-through-the motions existence. I don't see immigration as my issue, but perhaps somehow I can work to address some of the inequities we find in education. That would be a good theme for me.


Bryan's workshop blog said...

Lanny, I admire your spirit at this time. You chose to see forwards, looking for possibilities and vision - bravo, from afar.

I look forward to reading more of your writing, as ever.

Lanny Arvan said...

Bryan - you are always very generous about me in your comments. The truth is I have a lot of trepidation both about my own future and that of the the U of I. It will take a year or two to see how sensible a decision this is and whether it is better than the alternative. You may not know Ed Garay from UIC, but he wrote on my Facebook Wall that he may very well follow suit here. So I'm definitely not the only one thinking this way.

Bryan's workshop blog said...

I hear you about trepidation, Lanny, and feel a deep sympathy. You have my best wishes.

Can you send me email, when you get the chance?
Will you keep blogging (please)?

Lanny Arvan said...

I will keep blogging, no doubt. What will change is the environment in which I operate. That's bound to have some effect on my perspective, though at this point I can't predict what that might be.

pumpkiny said...

Twill be a treat hearing about your new adventures...even with trepidation, it's greatly encouraging how you're willing to think and move forward...I think folks like you and @bgblogging are great examples of how to jump off the cliff, explore, and end up in a beautiful place...=)

Barbara said...


I am just now catching up on the last few weeks' worth of blog reading and here I find that you're really doing it--not retiring but saying goodbye and stepping into a new adventure. People often ask me why I retired from Middlebury (to do story telling and hang out in my garden) when I could have stayed for many more years--ack--it's quite revealing that people cannot get their heads around the possibility that we might have a next adventure in mind!

Congrats! I very much look forward to the next chapters: to hearing about the choices you make, the books you read, the thoughts you express about the transition.


Lanny Arvan said...

Pumpkin and Barbara - kind of interesting how in her comment Pumpkin mentions Barbara. The world seems very small. Also, I had to go to moderated comments to avoid the spam and since I approved your posts at the the same time I confused myself and thought for a second you were hanging out together.

I do have a bit of a reading agenda. I just found a book that maybe you have heard of called On Not Being Able To Paint. It was originally published in 1950. I've got a copy of the second edition with a 1983 copyright. And on the Amazon site it says they are releasing a new edition at the end of this year. I've only read a couple of chapters so far. The theme is how common sense impedes the creative self. She has actual illustrations, mostly charcoal sketches, to show what she is talking about. So it is like a diary about her work while showing her work. The author was a practicing psychiatrist and the intro of this edition is written by Anna Freud, but mainly the language the author uses is straightforward.

My own projection of what I've read so far, just the first couple of chapters, is that there is a logical problem with what the reality we see is because we really have two images, one created by each eye, and then somehow the brain superimposes those. What the brain does can play tricks on us that way. I never thought of this before, so even if it wasn't at all part of the author's message, it has been provocative to read.

I also have a couple of massive biographies, one on Joyce, the other on William James, that I haven't had the courage to tackle, but now will try.

And to make some of this less romantic sounding - some of my trepidation is of the financial sort. I'm afraid the State of Illinois will renege on some of its pension obligations. As an economist, some repudiation seems necessary to me. As a soon to be beneficiary, I hope I'm grandfathered out, but I don't really know how that can work.

I do need to finish the first draft of my book. I was at Iowa City for the Writing Festival a couple of weeks ago. Both of my teachers taught writing by ... drawing.

I also need to do more reading to see different models of the writing. Somebody at the workshop mentioned Oliver Sacks - Uncle Tungsten, potentially a style to imitate. I recently bought an iPad, would love it if the books could be read on it, but I'm finding a lot of what I want is in hard copy only.

Live by technology...

Barbara said...

Ha! That's great about @pumpkiny commenting too right then. She's certainly someone who gets both sides of the academic street and has been sending me invaluable links to creative work in my new world, so I'm not surprised that she's here, too, cheering you on!

I love the range of what you are reading--I have not read the book about not being able to paint but have come in touch with its thesis.

I used to teach writing by having students tell stories without words--it didn't mean they had to draw (they could move, they could take photographs...whatever) but they had to shed language, to make it strange, to come back to it with a new embrace of its pleasures and powers and pitfalls. I find that my photography helps me to write and my writing helps me to take photos. The same goes for gardening and cooking as different ways to be in contact with ideas, the world, the earth, myself, and communication modes. That you are not only stepping away from the university but from your old ways of doing things, i.e.writing, seems really rich to me.

Lanny Arvan said...

And the reason not to use words was to prevent the various implicit assumptions from creeping in?

My eyes are bigger than my stomach with respect to all this activity. I'm sure it will settle down to something more modest reasonably soon. But for now, I'll be dabbling with a whole bunch of stuff.

Barbara said...

Some of that for sure--to release ourselves from the ruts of thinking and of using language, our own personal cliches that are so pleasing and so limiting. But also to have fun, to play, to mess around with the whole notion of narrative and context, of character and idea, of voice and audience. That was the best part: watching students find their way back to a more playful, more creative self.

Lanny Arvan said...

I have been thinking about how to get the students playful in an Econ Course in ways other than writing (with our without words).

On that I've got some primitive ideas about having the students imitate stock traders operating in "the pit" and use technology to help record what they do. Here's a little form I built for the purpose. Try making an entry yourself. And here is the spreadsheet to record all the entries.

The real trick is to create some of the frantic sense of actual trading. That has to be done live, either face to face or with some sort of chat. And then the actual trades need to be recorded. I'd love to automate that too, but I think some of it will probably have to be manual.

There is some underlying economics to it all, but let them get caught up into it first and find the economics afterward, when they are ready for it.

Bryan's workshop blog said...

We've had a lot of fun running a prediction market. Check http://markets.nitle.org. There are other examples out there, plus scholarship.